REVIEW: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides


This review may contain spoilers. Edited image from www.kirstenimages.com.

I first heard of The Virgin Suicides many years ago when I watched the film adaption of the book. It was different to other films of its time, or at least the films that I had seen, and I fell in love with it. Finally, this year, I managed to get around to reading it. How that happened is a slightly funny story - I wanted to buy a shirt from UrbanOutfitters.com but I needed to spend $50 in order to get free shipping. So what did I do? I added a pack of socks to my order along with this book. (It had a pretty cover. And for the record, the socks are pretty awesome too.) When the book arrived it was almost too pretty to touch. I had the feeling that this was going to be a book I'd fall in love with, and that made me want to postpone starting it. I wanted to savour the flavour, if you know what I mean. But then, on the aeroplane to Melbourne, stuck in the middle seat with a view of nothing and strangers on either side, my mother many many rows behind me (that's what you get for being two minutes late to baggage check in OOPS), I finally picked up the book.

It was exactly what I expected and also nothing like what I'd imagined. I fell in love with it, instantly. From the very first sentence I knew this was going to be a great book for me. I recognised snippets that I'd seen before in messily-typed tumblr posts and photographs of the text. In the context of the book they were infinitely more beautiful that I'd previously realised. Jeffery Eugenides seems to have such a way with words. They make you want to fall into the rabbit hole and drown yourself in his silky sentences. I've never read any of his other books, but damn, I'm going to. Middlesex is up next!

As I said in my Goodreads review, this is going to be one of those books that will be battered and yellowed from having the pages flicked through so many times. It's already heading in that direction! I can't even pinpoint my favourite thing about this book. It just makes me feel so many different things. However I was surprised to discover that not everybody loves this book as much as I do! The Virgin Suicides got mixed reviews on Goodreads. People seemed to either love it or hate it. I guess that's fair. It's a lovely book for some, but perhaps it's not for everyone. Maybe it's my history with mental illness that had my pupils turning into tiny little hearts. I don't know. It struck the right chord within me. I found myself instantly with the narrators, a bunch of boys in Suburban Michigan in the 1970s who watch the Lisbon sisters kill themselves over the course of a year. Some of the dislikes with this book seemed to be about how we knew they were going to die from the first page. But knowing how their story ends is not the same as knowing how it unfolded. And besides, this is not just a story about the girls. Part of the intrigue comes from the narrators. Why is it that they are so obsessed with these girls? First love? Mere obsession? Preoccupation with death? Were the boys only interested in the Lisbon girls after the suicides began? These questions say a lot about the narrators and I believe they are as much a part of the story as the girls.

It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them and that they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house, with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together. Jeffery Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

"Thinning hair and soft bellies". These are middle-aged men, still fascinated by what had happened and why it had happened. Doesn't that make you wonder? They couldn't let the Lisbon girls go. Maybe it was love or lust, maybe it was eerie fascination, but I choose to believe that the boys were merely encapsulated in wonder, continuing to try to understand why the girls had chosen to die.

Another pet peeve with dissatisfied readers seemed to be how the mystery was never solved. We never find out exactly why they did it. We can wonder and make guesses but like the boys, we will never truly know for sure. Annoying for some? Sure. But THAT IS THE DAMN POINT. What do you think this book is even about? Did you expect it to tell you the answers? Did you think it was actually called "Understanding Suicide For Dummies". The book did exactly what I wanted it to. It reassured me that I'll never know. Because you can't know.

I could probably ramble on for another half an hour about what I think "virgin" means in this context. We know that at least one of the girls was not a virgin in the literal sense, but that's not what it means. When Lux is blowing smoke rings into the air, one of the boys pokes his finger through the ring, saying "don't let it die a virgin!" The girls were young, and as the doctor had told Cecilia, "aren't even old enough to know how life gets". In this sense they're virgins. Or at least that's how I first understood it. But surely there are as many interpretations of that as there are readers, so don't take my opinion for fact.

The Virgin Suicides is 243 pages long (or at least my copy is). If you're as obsessive as me, you can read it in a couple of days. I think it is difficult not to fall in love with the characters - all of them, in my opinion - through those beautifully crafted words. You learn so much about the girls and the boys in the town, as well as the parents and other families. Lux seems to be a favourite sister, although I have a soft spot for "the weird one", Cecilia, and also Bonnie.

After I finished the book I went back and re-watched the movie. Although I had lower expectations after loving the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was quite true to the book! And after having read the book I noticed many more details in the movie that I hadn't picked up on the first billion times around.

The paramedics took Cecilia to Bon Secours Hospital on Kercheval and Maumee. In the emergency room Cecelia watched the attempt to save her life with an eerie detachment. Her yellow eyes didn't blink, nor did she flinch when they stuck a needle in her arm. Dr. Armonson stitched up her wrist wounds. Within five minutes of the transfusion he declared her out of danger. Chucking her under her chin, he said, "What are you doing here, honey? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets."

And it was then that Cecelia gave orally what was to be her only form of a suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: "Obviously, Doctor," she said, "you've never been a thirteen-year-old girl." Jeffery Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

Have you read this book? What did you think? Tell me your thoughts! And if you never have, maybe you should give it a try! Surely I'm not alone in my love of TVS. Oh and if you know of a book you think I'd like, let me know! :)

4 comments:

  1. "Another pet peeve with dissatisfied readers seemed to be how the mystery was never solved. We never find out exactly why they did it. We can wonder and make guesses but like the boys, we will never truly know for sure. Annoying for some? Sure. But THAT IS THE DAMN POINT."

    EXACTLY. This review is perfect and I've now ordered the book as per your recommendation :P

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    1. Ooh, yay! I really hope you like it! Let me know what you think. :)

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  2. I have to admit I didn't like the movie when I first watched it years ago..but I might give the book a try.

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    1. aww, well oh well. may i ask what in particular didn't you like? maybe the book will be different. :)
      <3

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